In the North of Albania you will find the beautiful Accursed Mountains, a mountain range that is home to one of the most beautiful hikes in the Balkans: the Valbona to Theth hike. Along small rivers and waterfalls, through forests and river beds, with endless views of the peaks of the Accursed Mountains this path will take you up to the Valbona Pass. From here you will be able to awe at both sides of the valley, before descending to the idyllic village of Theth. While we had seen plenty of photos and even videos during our research of the hike, nothing compared to the beauty we witnessed in real life. However, the Valbona to Theth hike isn’t just something that you show up for, it is an adventure that requires a teeny tiny bit of planning, which even includes a beautiful ferry ride. To help you prep and plan your trip we have created a detailed step by step guide on how to plan the hike below. From where to stay, to transport options and tips and tricks, this is everything you need to know about the Valbona to Theth hike.
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Valbona to Theth Hike Itinerary & Map
Valbona to Theth – a 3 Day Itinerary
While the hike from Valbona to Theth will only take you a day, in total this is considered a 3 day activity, including a ferry over Lake Komani. As the hike will take you a full day you will have to spent a night in Theth and in Valbona. Some even extent their stay in Theth to do more day hikes, however, after the long hike we decided to just head back to Shkoder. To give you a bit of a better idea of what to expect, this is exactly how our itinerary looked like:
- Bus to Koman 6.30am
- Ferry from Koman to Fierze 9am
- Bus from Fierze to Valbona 12pm
- 1 Night in Valbona
- Breakfast at 7.30am
- Drop off at the trail at 8.30am
- Arrive in Theth 5.30pm
- 1 Night in Theth
- Breakfast at 8am
- Spent the morning in Theth
- Bus to Shkoder at 12pm
- Arrive in Shkoder at 3.30pm
This loop will start in Shkoder, where you will need to stay before hand so you can leave your main luggage here, and will take you back to Shkoder. To give you a bit of a better idea of our route, check out the map below which indicates the cities, the start and end point of the ferry and the start and end point of the hike, so you know a little bit of what to expect. And while this itinerary might seem intimidating, and a lot to arrange, it is actually fairly easy and straight forward. So, to make sure you will be fully prepared we have written down every single detail and step of the way below, so you can enjoy your hike worry free!
Valbona to Theth or Theth to Valbona?
Before planning, and reading the rest of the article, you need to decide one thing first: will you be hiking from Valbona to Theth or Theth to Valbona. After a lot of research, we ended up deciding to hike from Valbona to Theth for the following reasons:
- The Valbona side ascends more gradual, with a lot of straight surface breaks in between, making for quite an easy ascend.
- The Valbona side is considered more scenic, which we could enjoy while it wasn’t too warm yet in the morning.
- The journey from Shkoder to Valbona is a lot longer, as described above, something we did not want to do after a long hike.
- The path to Theth mainly takes you through the forest, perfect for the hot afternoon sun.
- The hotels in Valbona are located far away from the trail, adding easily another 2 – 5km. If you start in Valbona you will often be given a ride by your hotel in the morning, saving you those extra kilometres.
In the end we could have not been happier with our decision to hike from Valbona to Theth, exactly for the reasons above. If we had to do it all again, we would do the exact same things, the only downside, the descent on the Valbona side would have been easier, plus you would have been facing the valley, allowing you to enjoy the view perhaps a bit more. So now, without further ado let’s start with how to actually plan the Valbona to Theth Hike.
Where to Stay in Shkoder
First things first, when picking a hotel or guest house in Shkoder, be sure to check if you will be able to leave your main luggage behind here. As the Valbona to Theth hike is a loop, unless you plan to hike back, you will bring all your luggage with you, so the less you pack the better.
Bärlin Guesthouse | We stayed at Bärlin Guesthouse, 2 days before the hike, and 3 days after, where they were so kind to look after our luggage while we were gone. Igli and his family welcomed us with open arms in their newly opened guesthouse, a warm and social environment with a beautiful garden to relax in after a day of exploring Shkoder. We absolutely loved our stay at Bärlin Guesthouse, a great place to stay for those who would like to stay in a central location in Shkoder but are traveling on a budget!
How to get from Shkoder to Valbona:
The Komani Lake Ferry
The Komani Lake ferry is a real treat, and by far the best way to get from Shkoder to Valbona. A beautiful 2.5 hour boat ride that will take you through the most beautiful valleys, with the water so clear that sometimes it almost looks like a mirror. However, as the Komani Lake is not exactly located right next to Shkoder, you will have to catch a bus here first, but don’t worry, this is actually fairly easy.
One of the most popular companies, Berisha, offers a package where they will come and pick you up at your hotel or guesthouse in Shkoder, then drop you off at the ferry, and then another mini bus will pick you up to take you to your guesthouse in Valbona.
The Komani Lake Ferry itinerary – This activity will take you the whole morning, so be sure to pack some breakfast and simply sit back and enjoy some of the most beautiful views you will find in Albania. Our driver was so kind to drop everybody off at their guesthouse in Valbona, saving us a couple of kilometres of walking. The itinerary will most likely look a bit like the following:
- 6.30am – 7am: pickup at hotel or guesthouse in Shkoder
- 7am – 9am: bus from Shkoder to Koman
- 9am – 11.30am: ferry from Koman to Fierze
- 11.30am – 1pm: bus from Fierze to Valbona
Where to buy tickets for the Komani Lake Ferry – While you can arrange transport to Koman independently, find a ferry there and then independently find your way again to Valbona, the easiest option by far is to just reserve the buses and ferry online. Berisha offers the total package, including a pickup at your guesthouse in Shkoder, for €18 per person (paid upon pickup) or €15 when paid online. You can find more info on how to buy tickets, the timetable and schedule right here.
Where to Stay in Valbona
So now you have enjoyed your ferry ride, and have actually made it to the beautiful village of Valbona. We would strongly advise booking your accommodation in advance for Valbona as Valbona doesn’t have a city centre. Valbona is basically just a long stretch of road with guesthouses, camp ground and hotels on either side, and not booking anything in advance can make for a long search during high season.
Lazer Cardaku Guest House | We stayed Lazer Cardaku Guest House and we could have not been happier with our choice. We were warmly welcomed by the family, and although the rooms are basic, we were given a tasty dinner and breakfast in the living room right in front of the fire place, we had warm showers, were given extra bread to make lunch for our hike, and on top of that our host was so kind to drop of us by car at the start of the trail saving us a rough 2km along the asphalt road.
Hotel Margjeka | Another popular option is Hotel Margjeka, one of the hotels located closest to the start of the trail, however, this hotel tends to sell out soon and requires a bit more in advance planning and booking. Hotel Margjeka is by far one of the most highly rated and popular hotels in Valbona.
When picking a hotel or guesthouse you might want to check how far your accommodation will be from the start of the trail as well, as it could easily add another 4 to 5km to your hike. Guesthouses that are further away will often offer drop off at the trail as well, we just recommend checking with the accommodation before booking.
The Valbona to Theth Hike
How difficult is the hike?
While you might know by now how to get to Valbona, you might be wondering if this is actually something that you would be interested in doing, and how difficult is it really. So let’s start by saying that if I can do it, trust me, you can do it too. While I love walking through cities and cute villages, as soon as I have to climb up anything that has even a slight incline, including stairs, you will see me catching my breath. To basically sum it up: I have absolutely zero stamina so while the hike definitely wasn’t easy, it was 100% worth it. Here is some more basic info on the Valbona to Theth hike:
- Distance: 12km, possibly more depending on the location of your guesthouse
- Duration: 6 – 9 hours. It took us 9 hours in total with plenty of small stops and two longer breaks at the cafes.
- Elevation: the hike has a minimum elevation of 800m and a maximum elevation of 1800m.
- Guide & Trail Markings: You do not need a guide for this hike as it is very well marked. You will find markings consisting of two white stripes with a red stripe in the middle mainly on trees and rocks indicating where to go.
What to expect on the Valbona to Theth Hike
The terrain of the hike is very diverse, but one thing we can definitely advise, get shoes with a good profile as it will not only help you ascend but will definitely help you during the steep descent. Overall the hike, in our opinion, can be split into six parts, and to make it a bit easier for you so you know what to expect once you start the hike we have separated and described them in detail down below.
Part 1: from the river bed to the forest – The hike starts in Valbona where you will cross the first 2.5km over a stoney river bed along beautiful pine trees. As this part of the hike barely inclines it is a good warm up for the paths ascending the mountain that are soon to come. Once leaving the river bed you will start slowly ascending through a forest like path that takes you along small farms until you reach the first cafe on the hike: Cafe Emanueli. This part is one of the easiest parts of the hike.
Part 2: a slow ascent – From Cafe Emanueli you will slowly start ascending, where the path combines zig zagging steep paths with short breaks of straight paths in between. Take your time here, and be sure to sometimes stop, turn around and enjoy the view the hardest part of the hike is yet to come, so preserve some of that energy. Right before the next cafe you will notice that the path starts to get steeper and steeper, a perfect time for a break and a drink at Simoni Cafe.
Part 3: the steep ascent – After Simoni Cafe you will find that the path will the path on a continues incline while it slowly zigzags its way to the top of the mountain. This part has some of the most beautiful views over the valley, so take your time, catch your breath, and simply enjoy. While steep it won’t be long before you reach the Valbona Pass.
Part 4: the Valbona Pass – At a certain point the zigzagging paths will turn into a straight and narrow path along the side of the mountain, be careful here as the paths are quite slippery. From here it is just a short walk to the actual Valbona Pass where you will be able to enjoy the view over both valleys. Once you reach the paths you will find various smaller hikes taking you to the top of the hill, the perfect place to stop for a lunch break.
Part 5: through the forest – From the Valbona Pass a steep descent along rocky paths will lead you through a beautiful forest. While views over the mountains and the valleys will be limited, this forest provides perfect protection from the warm summer sun, just be careful hiking here as the leaves of the trees make the path very slippery. The path will open up again once you reach Cafe Krojnat, a perfect place for another break (if you have the time) before the final descent to Theth.
Part 6: the steep descent to Theth – While we expected the trail to get easier after Cafe Krojnat, it actually only got harder. The final part of the hike are steep descending paths filled with loose laying rocks, where nearly all of us almost fell, no matter hiking boots or not. This path will take you down to the centre of Theth where you can make your way to your guesthouse for a delicious dinner and a proper night’s sleep.
Where to Stay in Theth
After a long hike you will want to make sure that your guesthouse is located close to the end of the trail. And while finding accommodation in Theth is relatively easier compared to Valbona as the guesthouses are more centralised after a 6 to 9 hour hike the last thing you want to do is go hunting for a guesthouse, as also here they do tend to fill up.
Logu I Harushave | We stayed at Logu I Harushave, which had a nice and central location, located relatively close to the start of the trail. The staff was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and we had a delicious breakfast (skipped dinner the day before). But the room itself was rather basic and due to the thin wooden walls it was quite noisy, not making for the best night sleep we’ve had in Albania, so if you decide to book this place be sure to bring some earplugs.
How to get from Theth to Shkoder
Had a good night sleep? Time to go head back to Shkoder! While the journey is only a rough 80km from Theth to Shkoder it will take roughly 3 to 4 hours to actually get there and while the first hour of the road on the non asphalt road is rather bumpy, the views are absolutely spectacular so make sure to get a window seat for the best views. The easiest way to arrange transport is by simply asking your guesthouse to arrange it for you. Many guesthouses have set pick up times where a mini bus will come and pick up customers, at our guest house it was between 11.30am and 12.30pm, but our friends who stayed in a different guesthouse managed to arrange transport at 6.30am back to Shkoder. The prices in October 2019 were set to €10 per person, a price that seemed to be the same no matter at which guesthouse you stayed at.
Planning the Valbona to Theth Hike
Now, while the info above will help you with your journey from Shkoder to Valbona and onwards to Theth, you might have a couple of questions left still. Keep on reading to find more tips on planning the Valbona to Theth Hike, including what to pack, the costs and how much cash to bring and which time of the year you should go and do the hike!
What to pack for the Valbona to Theth Hike
One of the most important things when it comes to packing for the hike is to pack as light as comfortable, and to wear a comfortable backpack. Our backpacks weighed 7kg each including 1L of water each, and a heavy DSLR camera. Besides that, here are the things that we would consider an absolute must for the hike:
Hiking boots or solid sneakers – The trail is filled with rocks, and especially when descending you want to make sure you have got a good grip to avoid slipping. We did not have hiking boots with us, but simply did the hike in a pair of sneakers. While definitely doable we did have some soar feet, and wished we brought our hiking boots with us.
Reusable water bottle – The tap water in Valbona and Theth is drinkable so you can fill up your bottle before the hike. During the hike you will be able to fill up your water bottle at the cafes where they have a tap with ice cold spring water available.
Waterproof jacket – The weather in the mountains can change within seconds, and with not many places to take shelter from the rain we recommend taking a waterproof jacket with you. Make sure your bag is waterproof as well, or has a rain cover, to protect your clothes and gear from getting wet as well. We pack dry sacks as well for extra protection for our important documents and gear.
Down jacket or sweater – In the mornings and late evenings it can get very cold in the mountains. While we had temperatures of 25 degrees during the day, we started hiking when it was just 7 degrees outside. For your hike bring layers that you can easily put on and take off. We packed a shirt, long sleeved shirt and a down jacket to keep us warm.
First aid kit – A small travel sized first aid kit with some bandages, medical tape, antiseptic cream etc. is definitely advised when going on the hike. While the path is relatively easy to walk on, it is also quite easy to slip over the loose rocks. Bring some bandaids and medical tape to treat small wounds, scrapes and blisters.
Snacks & lunch – While there are some cafes along the way they mainly serve drinks, so be sure to pack some snacks and a lunch. Our guesthouse in Valbona was so kind to give us extra bread so we could make lunch and we brought some snacks from Shkoder (including nuts, dates and raisins) to make sure we had enough food and energy during the hike.
Comfortable clothes – Forget about jeans, and pack some comfortable clothes! I wore sports leggings, a loose top with a sweater, and brought my down jacket for the times that I got cold on the mountain. As it can get quite warm during the heat of the day you can even consider packing some comfy shorts.
Valbona to Theth Hike: A Full Budget Breakdown
As there are no ATMs in Valbona or Theth you will have to bring enough money with you to cover all your expenses during the loop. You might be wondering exactly how much cash to bring on your trip, so to make it a bit easier for you here is exactly how much money we spent during our 3 day/2 night loop. The cost below are for both me and Rob.
|Transport from Shkoder to Valbona||2 Buses, 1 Ferry||€18 per person|
|Accommodation in Valbona||1 Night including breakfast||€33 per room|
|Dinner in Valbona||1 Vegetarian, 1 Meat Dinner||€5 and €8|
|Drinks during the hike||4 Drinks||€8|
|Accommodation in Theth||1 Night including Breakfast||€27 per room|
|Drinks in Theth||2 Soft drinks||€2.50|
|Transport from Theth to Shkoder||Minibus||€10 per person|
|Total||3 Days, 2 Nights||€139.50|
However, we did skip dinner on the second night as we were quite tired of the hike. Dinner on average costs between €5 – €10 depending on where you are staying and if you are choosing a vegetarian or a meat option. Drinks during the hike were often €1.50 – €2.50 and in the towns of Theth itself €1.25 to €2 with a choice of soft drinks, coffee, tea or even beer. We hope that our budget breakdown will help you to get a rough estimation on how much cash you will need to bring on the hike.
Best time to do the Valbona to Theth Hike
When planning your trip to Albania perhaps one of the most important things to consider is actually when to go on the hike. Due to heavy snowfall in the mountains this hike is closed from roughly early November to early May, depending on the weather conditions.
Shoulder Season – The months of May/June and September/October are the shoulder season in the Accursed Mountains. During the month of May you might still encounter snow on the trail, making the hike a lot more challenging, especially if you don’t have former hiking experience and the right hiking gear. June & September in general are considered some of the best months to hike due to the high chance of good weather conditions. We personally hiked the trail on a sunny day in mid October and witnessed the most stunning fall colours on the hike. We might have gotten lucky with the weather but we honestly believed we could have not picked a better time to do the trail!
High Season – The months of July and August are high season due to European schools having summer breaks, and are also the warmest months to do the hike. The owner of Simoni Cafe told us during high season you can expect a rough 200 – 500 people hiking the trail on a daily basis, for this reason alone you might want to try to avoid this season if you can and opt for the shoulder season instead.
Tips for the Valbona to Theth Hike
We have tried to share everything we know and learned about hiking from Valbona to Theth, but before you start booking, we wanted to share a last couple of tips with you so you can go fully prepared on the hike. So without further ado…
Maps.me – Download the app Maps.me before leaving Shkoder and make sure you download the Valbona/Theth area as an offline map. While the app will not show you the elevation you are at, it will help you navigate if necessary, without actually needing internet of wifi. It will also help you to make your way to the guesthouse at the end of the trail.
Buy Snacks in Shkoder – There are no shops in Valbona, and while we heard there should be one in Theth we actually did not see it. For that reason you are often bound by the food your guesthouse or hotel will provide for you. When you are in Shkoder stop by the supermarket for some easy snacks for the hike. We also prepared sandwiches for the first day to eat on the ferry. On top of that we packed some dates, nuts, raisins and some power bars for the hike, but, don’t buy too much, in the end you do have to carry it with you!
Keep the trail clean – Whatever you bring on the hike, make sure to bring it back down with you and help to keep the trail clean. The hike is absolutely beautiful, but it will only stay this way if everyone does their part and takes their trash down the mountain with them.
Wifi and internet – Wifi at the guesthouse are often not too great, at least not in our case, so perhaps bring a (very light) book or download some episodes of your favourite show on Netflix for your downtime. There is a possibility to buy a sim card in Tirana or Shkoder, however, we have no experience if the internet will actually work in the mountains.